Programming Languages

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Programming languages let you communicate a set of instructions for a computer to carry out. Each programming language has its specific vocabulary—or set of keywords—and set of rules for entering instructions—the grammar or syntax. Since computers operate according to binary systems—or data bits strung together in sequences of ones and zeros—programming languages are precisely laid out to harness the power of computers' computational systems while making them intelligible to humans. Most languages act as a sort of translator between human language and the ones and zeros of machine language, often through several layers of language hierarchy. While there are thousands of programming languages floating around on the world's computer systems, only a handful have achieved widespread use. The types of programming languages you will employ in your business depends on the kind of business you're running and the nature of its internal operations.

In the beginning were simple machine languages, starting with assembler, which used abbreviations for all basic operations to manipulate the ones and zeros of machine code. Assembler represents the most basic computer instructions. Unfortunately, as a result the assembler language was different for each computer, and so to make a program operate with two different computers, a higher-level language is required that can adapt to different machines' instructions and interpret between the two.


One way of classifying programming languages is according to their functionality. The primary strength of Fortran (Formula Translation, the earliest programming language) is in its ability to perform numeric computations, and thus finds favor in computer operations in engineering, the sciences, and mathematics.

Cobol and Basic are simpler languages, and are thus ideal for use by nonprogrammers for designing simple computer functions. Languages such as Java and C are for object-oriented programming, while Delphi builds on the simple Pascal language and integrates it with object-oriented programming capabilities. Object-oriented programming languages are built by combining different objects in the program and instructing them to interact with each other via visual icons and interfaces to create a particular desired output. Thus, these are fairly common programming languages for designing Web sites.

Some languages, such as Snobol, SQL, APL, and Prolog, are used primarily to simplify the rendering of specific data types. For example, SQL is used to write database queries and functions, while Prolog is used to simplify strings of logical expressions. Still other programming languages, such as Simula and GPSS, are commonly employed to create simulations based on hypothetical scenarios.

In addition to their functionality, programming languages have grown to become associated with particular user communities, according to Computerworld. Cobol is the language most commonly associated with business operations, and is thus one of the languages that entrepreneurs tend to find most useful. Prolog and Lisp tend to be used for computer science and artificial intelligence. Basic and Pascal are excellent for teaching computer programming. The various C languages are associated with systems software. SGML and PostScript are strongly favored in publishing operations. And HTML and Java are universal languages on the World Wide Web.


Cobol (Common Business Oriented Language) first emerged in 1959 and has undergone a series of updates over the years. Cobol was devised in the interests of academics, manufacturers, and businesses who agreed that a common business language was needed to facilitate computers communication across a wide spectrum. It is a fairly simple language with tremendous capacity for data processing. As a result, businesses have widely adopted Cobol, which is transparent enough so programming errors are easy to identify and eliminate. In the early 2000s, e-commerce developers were discussing ways to update Cobol so that users could use the language in an HTML-based Web interface, indicating that Cobol would likely continue to dominate business-oriented computer programming languages in the era of e-commerce.

C and its variations are primarily geared toward the development of software, including e-commerce applications. C is exceptionally adaptable, with tremendous capabilities for both high-and low-level functions. C-based programs carry the added benefit of using up very little memory on your computer. An enhanced version of C, known as C, is widely used in familiar desktop applications, including spreadsheets, word processors, interpreters, and project management suites. C is especially useful because most hardware manufacturers offer drives with C interfaces, and a large proportion of the world's programmers know the language. However, while a valuable tool for simpler programs, C may be inadequate for more complex applications, and it lacks the object-oriented capabilities of C. As of the early 2000s, C was the most advanced software development programming language in wide use. It allows you to retain access to low-level machine language while developing sophisticated applications, and it is compatible with every computer platform.

One of the most popular languages for the Web and for e-commerce in particular is Java. Java applications are intended to be platform independent, so in theory they can run on almost all PCs and workstations. The object-oriented Java language is based on C structures, but is simpler than C. It consumes less memory on your computer and renders updating and troubleshooting simpler. Java was designed specifically for use on the World Wide Web.


Appleman, Daniel. How Computer Programming Works. Berkeley, CA: Apress, 2000.

Kay, Russell. "Programming Languages." Computerworld, July 17, 2000, 64.

Laney, Jeff. "Which Text Language Works Best?" Test & Measurement World, April 15, 2002, 4.

Radcliff, Deborah. "Moving COBOL to the Web—Safely." Computerworld, May 1, 2000.

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Programming Languages

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